Criminal defendants have constitutional rights but the most important is the requirement that the prosecution must prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The Sixth Amendment provides that any accused person shall enjoy the assistance of a counsel for his defence. There are many other rights that will be discussed below.
Right to remain silent
According to the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution, a defendant cannot be compelled in any criminal case to be the witness against himself. To put it simply, a defendant has the right to remain silent. He cannot be called upon by the prosecutor as witness and cannot be forced by the judge or the court to testify.
Right to legal representation
Accused individuals have the right to legal representation. If the accused cannot afford to hire a lawyer for his defence, the judge must appoint a lawyer at government expense for the accused’s adequate representation during the trial, during plea bargains and before sentencing the defendant to imprisonment. However, adequate representation does not necessarily mean perfect representation because there has been circumstances where the ineffective assistance of a counsel has been established.
Right to speedy trial
According to the 6th Amendment, defendants have the right to a speedy trial but it does not specify the exact time limits. There are instances where a judge has to decide on a case-to-case basis because the defendant’s trial has been so delayed that the case has to be thrown out. Before making the decision, the judge will consider the length of the delay, the reason for the delay and if the delay has prejudiced the position of the defendant.
Right to public trial
The 6th Amendment also guarantees the defendant’s right a public trial in criminal cases. This means that the defendant’s family, friends, ordinary citizens and the media can be present in the courtroom to ensure that certain rights are protected.
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